Library staff wellbeing during the lockdown: a case study from QMUL

Paula Funnell, Faculty Liaison Librarian at Queen Mary University of London, describes the efforts made by her library to keep staff engaged during the pandemic.

During the first national lockdown everyone was suddenly thrust into working from home, sometimes without the necessary tools and equipment and often with children or family members also at home. Others were locked down alone and felt isolated; anxiety and stress levels were high.

Queen Mary University of London Library’s Staff Development & Wellbeing Group wanted to provide staff with activities to give them time away from work duties, as well as focusing on opportunities to stay connected to colleagues at a time when everyone was apart.

Wellbeing afternoon

Our first organised activity was an afternoon event to replace part of our usual annual staff conference, the afternoon of which always focuses on wellbeing.

We used breakout rooms in Zoom to enable icebreaker activities and to put people in teams to do a quiz. This enabled members of staff to interact with colleagues that in many cases they hadn’t had any contact with during lockdown, and for some new members of staff it gave them the opportunity to meet colleagues that they’d never even met!

Image of round from staff quiz

Through the group members, and thanks to contacts across the university, we were able to provide a choice of activities including cookery demonstrations, games, craft, meditation and yoga. Everyone who attended seemed to have a really good time and gave positive feedback.

Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Very enjoyable. Excellent sessions and the quiz was a great way to get us working with each other. Thanks!"
Example of feedback from a library staff member: "Amazing. I had so much fun today, your round the world quiz was really great."

Wellbeing activities programme

Following on from the success of the wellbeing afternoon it was decided that during the summer months we should offer a regular programme of activities. We ran activities twice over a two week period to enable as many staff to attend as possible. These included similar events to those provided as part of the wellbeing afternoon, such as mindfulness meditations, quizzes and cookery demos.

Screen image of member of staff giving cookery demo

Although attendance at these events wasn’t high, they provided a good opportunity for staff to take a break from work activities and come together with colleagues. They were very much appreciated by those who attended.

Weekly coffee breaks

Alongside the programme of events it was decided to also provide weekly 30 minute coffee breaks. These allowed staff the opportunity to connect in an informal setting for some down-time and just catch up with colleagues.

The autumn term

The regular wellbeing events paused during the autumn term as many front-facing staff were back on campus, and other staff were particularly busy with getting resources online, student inductions, and information literacy teaching sessions. We did run an online festive event and made use of a variety of online tools to make it as interactive as possible, including Zoom breakout rooms, Padlet and Socrative. The afternoon comprised of a festive traditions icebreaker, a “who’s the baby?” quiz, a Christmas-themed team quiz, and “best seasonally decorated object / person / space” competition.

Photograph of dog dressed in Christmas outfit for best seasonally decorated object/person/space competition with text which says "Marley getting into the festive spirit!"

The formal activities were followed by the chance to meet and chat informally using another new tool recently discovered by a member of Library staff, This provides the closest virtual equivalent to mingling.

Again, those attending really enjoyed the activities.

Positive feedback from library staff: Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to make a really nice afternoon for us all. I thought it was a lovely couple of hours and very well put together." And: "A huge thank you for organising the excellent online Christmas party last week - it was brilliant!"

Finally, in the week before Christmas, once everything had started to calm down, we ran a couple of Christmas-themed wellbeing sessions: a truffle making demo and an informal lunch chat with a game of bingo.

Moving forward

With many staff continuing to work remotely and facing increased stress and anxiety, the need for continued wellbeing provision continues. The aim is to continue with regular coffee breaks, to provide staff with informal opportunities to connect with colleagues, and to sometimes include an additional wellbeing activity such as a game, quiz, or mindfulness meditation. It is hoped that our wellbeing programme will continue to evolve over time to best meet the needs of our Library staff.

An interview with Liz Brewster

Photograph of Liz

Liz Brewster is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Education at Lancaster University and has written extensively about student wellbeing and bibliotherapy. In the summer, Emma Fitzpatrick and Pete Williams from the Wellbeing Task and Finish Group caught up with Liz over Microsoft Teams to talk about how library collections can promote good mental health and what academic libraries can do to support student wellbeing.  

Liz had lots of interesting things to say. You can read the full interview here.

Some tips for improving staff wellbeing


  • Make it possible for staff to achieve a reasonable work-life balance by taking regular breaks, not working or emailing outside of their regular hours, and not coming into work when sick.
  • Encourage managers to set a good example by doing the above themselves.
  • Set realistic deadlines and allow staff to pace themselves.
  • Actively observe colleagues and notice any unusual patterns.
  • Deal with any concerns as soon as they arise.
  • Offer staff rewards and incentives.
  • Try to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about stress, pressure, and mental health.
  • Ensure staff know about the support that is available from the university and other organisations.
  • Make any wellbeing activities inclusive and accessible for all staff.
  • Ensure line managers encourage involvement in wellbeing activities.
  • Provide time at work for colleagues to get together informally e.g. having a coffee as a team.
  • Keep wellbeing activities fun.


  • Tolerate a negative workplace culture.
  • Just provide tokenistic events. Events should be part of an embedded effort to foster an environment in which wellbeing is a priority.
  • Minimise issues if someone opens up about them. What might seem small or trivial to one person might cause real distress for someone else.
  • Treat staff differently if they have any sort of disability, mental health issues or long-term health conditions.
  • Bombard people with information about wellbeing!